By Ray Hamill — With their season essentially on the line, the Arcata Tigers answered the call on Friday night, remaining in the hunt for a league title with a 36-19 win over visiting Hoopa at the Redwood Bowl.
The Tigers never trailed in this homecoming matchup, scoring on two of their opening three possessions and holding a stubborn Hoopa team at arm’s length the remainder of the way.
The Warriors to their credit refused to go down easily, answering Arcata touchdowns on three separate occasions with scores of their own.
Ultimately, however, a dominating Arcata offensive line wore down the visiting Warriors and paved the way for the Tigers’ success.
“Again the offensive line was extremely physical, and we got a lot of good quarterback play, and both our running backs ran well,” Arcata head coach Jamal Jones said. “Overall, it was a solid performance.”
The Tigers came into the game without five injured starters, including top two receivers, Niko Zambas and Raven Perez, the latter of whom is out for the season.
A number of players stepped up in their absence, however, no one more so than Hayden Santsche.
The senior has been contributing at linebacker all season but picked up the slack offensively on Friday, pulling in three touchdown receptions from quarterback Mathew Robinson.
“It showed we have depth,” Jones said. “Everybody who came in stepped up. I didn’t see much of a drop off (offensively).”
Kien Mazzotti ran the ball well in the first half, finding the end zone on a 34-yard run for the opening score of the game six minutes in.
For good measure, Mazzotti added a two-point conversion run.
After Santsche made it a 14-0 lead on his first TD catch just two and a half minutes later, the Warriors then opened their account on a 15-yard touchdown throw from quarterback John Smith to receiver Jasper Hostler.
The score capped an impressive 71-yard, nine-play drive and was the first of three touchdowns the two would combine on for the game.
After the Tigers had opened up a two-TD lead again on Shane Purcell QB sneak, the Warriors got the ball back with just 22 seconds remaining in the half and took full advantage of it.
On what was the play of the game, Smith passed to Hostler, who lateraled to junior Larry Tracy, who ran the ball deep into Arcata territory.
That set up a second TD pass from Smith to Hostler as the half expired, pulling the visitors back within a score.
On a foggy night at the Redwood Bowl neither defense really stopped their opponents, and even when both teams were unable to find the end zone, they were still piecing together long drives.
Mazzotti was as slippery as always in the first half, but was held out in the second half for precautionary reasons after taking a knock.
With fellow running back Everett Halikas also out injured, the Tigers turned to sophomore Alex Gorge, and they didn’t miss a beat.
Gorge has impressed in the past two games in Halikas’ absence and gives the Tigers another solid option in the backfield.
But for the Tigers, it all starts with the offensive line, and the unit of Maximus Rice, Mateo Vincent, Jack Baca, Robbie Dieker and Cameron Mom never allowed the Hoopa defense to settle.
Trayce Crutchfield continued his impressive season for the Warriors, making numerous tackles.
With the loss, the Warriors dropped to 1-2 at the halfway stage of the Little 4 and 2-4 overall.
Arcata is now 2-1 in league and 4-3 overall.
The Tigers travel to Ferndale for a huge matchup next week between the two Little 4 frontrunners.
Hoopa will make a return trip to the Redwood Bowl to play McKinleyville.